French lessons to manage a healthy weight: slow down and stretch meals to speed satisfaction
By Andrea Holwegner BSc, RD “The Chocoholic Dietitian”
Each year between fall and the holiday season, Melanie seemed to pack on a few extra pounds. The shorter amount of daylight was partly to blame for her lower motivation to keep up her walking program. She also found that comfort foods were available in the evening to “stuff” some of her anxiety and worry.
To solve these issues, we built a customized nutrition plan together that didn’t just map out what to eat, but also how to eat.
We considered factors that influenced when and how she determined her food choices, including where she was eating, what she was doing while eating and who she was eating with. We spent significant time examining how long it took to prepare a meal or snack and the speed of eating in general.
Melanie learned she ate her best when she planned what she was having for supper well in advance to prevent poor impulse decision-making. She also ate better when she was with someone else rather than alone. She made a goal to try not to eat her top three evening comfort foods (cookies, crackers and potato chips) when she was alone, since she never ate a whole bag or box when she was with someone else.
Most importantly, Melanie slowed down and took the time she needed to prepare and eat supper leisurely. Although she didn’t think she had time, when she honestly looked at how much television she watched in the evening, she was able to carve out a few more minutes.
To her surprise, stretching preparation, cooking and sitting down for supper from 20 to 60 minutes or longer made her feel less rushed and anxious later in the evening. Eating without the television on, putting food on a plate instead of eating it mindlessly out of a package and learning to en-joy each bite helped her to feel more satisfied despite eating less.
Obesity is far less common in France than it is in Canada. Some researchers believe this is partly because of smaller portion sizes and the way food is consumed in general.
Dr. Paul Rozin, a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania, compared restaurants matched for price, location and type of food – including fast food, bistro, pizza, Chinese and ice cream options – in both Pennsylvania and Paris. Although there are differences between Canadian and American eating pat-terns, this study highlights some interesting points. Parisian portions were smaller by 25 per cent than those in Pennsylvania.
The research also showed that meals at home might also be smaller in France. Comparing the size of recipes used in a popular American cookbook with a similar French cookbook showed American portions were 25 per cent – and meat dishes 53 per cent – larger than French portions. The only recipes that were smaller in the U.S. were those for vegetables.
One reason the French may find satisfaction with smaller portions may be related to the speed of eating. Rozin found that in Mc-Donald’s restaurants, the French consumed lunch in an average of 22.2 minutes compared to 14.4 minutes in the U.S.
Another study of 1,500 middle-aged women, published in the August 2011 Journal of the American Dietetic Association, showed the faster women reported their eating speed, the higher their weight. Each increase in eating speed on a five-step scale resulted in a 2.8 per cent greater body mass index (BMI), or approximately four more pounds.
In more traditional French restaurants and at home, it is customary to serve food in multiple courses and eat together with family and/or friends.
As Melanie found, this may help to stretch out the length of a meal, slow down the pace of eating and allow your brain to acknowledge satiety cues more accurately. It may also help with your overall enjoyment of the eating experience and help you feel that smaller amounts of food can truly be satisfying.
Andrea Holwegner is The Chocoholic Dietitian and owns Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. Visit www.healthstandnutrition.com or phone 403-262-3466 for nutrition counselling, speaking engagements and to subscribe to her free monthly ezine. Twitter: @chocoholicRD.